“But Florida is a right to work state” is a phrase frequently uttered by employees protesting everything from a termination to the enforcement of a noncompete. The common misconception is that “right to work” means an employee cannot be fired without cause, and that a company cannot restrict a former employee from going to work for a competitor. Neither statement is true.

In fact, “right to work” is a union term. A “right to work” state, such as Florida, is a state where an individual has the right to apply for and accept employment at a unionized company regardless of whether that individual has a union card. Once hired, the employee has the option of either joining the union, or not joining the union. By contrast, a “closed shop” is a workplace where, once the employees have voted in a union, all employees must join – even those who voted against having a union – and anyone applying for a job must join the union as a condition of employment.

Florida is a “right to work” state. That means an individual has a right to accept a job and go to work regardless of whether they choose to join the union and pay union dues. Florida is also an “employment at will” state, which means that a company can fire an employee at any time for any reason or for no reason at all (so long as the firing is not based on unlawful discrimination or retaliation for protected activity, or in violation of a written employment contract). And Florida has one of the most employer-friendly noncompete statutes in the country, allowing a company to protect its legitimate business interests by restricting employees from going to work for a competitor.

Unfortunately, misunderstanding of the term “right to work” often leads to feelings of entitlement by employees, and a false sense of security in the workplace.